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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman

 

An Early Anniversary Present

 

The snow came a week and a half early. It should have come next week, around the date of our anniversary, which is a week from tomorrow, on Friday, the 12th. (There is, however, a long-range forecast that hints at some snow a couple of days before the big day.) But even with some rain in the forecast for this weekend, it is likely that there will still be snow on the ground next week, to serve as a reminder of our snowy wedding day in 2006. (Last year was one of the few years since we were married that it didn’t snow on or about our anniversary.)

 

For obvious reasons, snow is rarely mentioned in early Jewish writings: snow was not a common sight in ancient Israel let alone in Babylonia where the Talmud was formulated. The word appears about twenty times in the Hebrew Bible—a quarter of them in the Book of Job. Several times the word is used metaphorically, such as in Psalm 51 where there is an appeal to the Almighty: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (v.9). There is one reference to a snowy day to be found In II Samuel (23:20) and its parallel in I Chronicles (11:22): Beniah ben Jehoaida, one of King David’s warriors, went into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And then there are the references to snow as a gift from God—“He lays down snow like fleece” (Psalm 147:16)-- and also as part of the worldly choir praising the Almighty—“Praise the Lord, O you who are on earth, all sea monsters and ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and smoke, storm wind that executes his command…” (Psalm 148:7-8).

 

The other evening, at the conclusion of the zoom evening service, my colleague, Rabbi Buechler, suggested that the Hebrew word for snow, Sheleg should be deemed to be the initials of 3 words associated with yahrzeits. Let me propose a slightly different set of 3 words.

 

Shin stands for Shalom. The falling snow serves as a reminder of how quiet things can; that for a brief time the world seems to be at peace. We are grateful for that peace but need to be reminded that beyond these brief moments, we must strive for peace in the world around us.

 

Lamed stands for Lavan, for white. The whiteness of the blanket of snow is comforting. There is beauty to be seen in this white cover. But Lamed also stands for Limmud, for learning. With driving put on hold, it was a chance to do more than binge-watch; it was an opportunity to study; to read and to learn. It serves as a reminder that learning is an on-going process, enriching our lives.

 

And finally, Gimmel stands for Gesher, a bridge. We are fortunate to have electronics bridges which span the distances and so though snow may bar our journeying forth, as does the pandemic, we can remain connected. And for that we should be grateful. (Gimmel also stands for Gadya, little goat, as in Chad Gadya; a reminder that the first seder is 7 weeks from Saturday night.)

 

May we take to heart the lessons offered by this week’s sufat sheleg (snowstorm).

 

Shabbat shalom.

 

P.S. Save the date: Thursday night, February 25th is Purim. More details in the next week or so on our virtual celebration.

 

A reminder that our next Book Group gathering will be on-line on Sunday, March 14th at 11 a.m.: Daniel Silva’s most recent novel, The Order.

 

There are Jewish connections to this Super Bowl. Each team has a Jewish lineman: the Buccaneers have Ali Marpet and the Chiefs offer us Mitchell Schwartz. However, tipping the scales is the fact that the owners of the Buccaneers are the Glazer family, who have been generous supporters of the local Jewish community. Does this mean we need to root for the Bucs and Tom Brady?

 

Join us on Shabbat for our services:

Friday at 8 p.m. Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82113653553

 

Saturday at 11 a.m. Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84809526484

 

 

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Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel

 

A Victory Over Sweets?

 

Most of us love sweets. Yet, we know these treats are empty calories; but oh, so delectable and enjoyable.  Is there a way of reducing our craving for something sweet?

 

Gitit Lahav, an Israeli psychologist, joined forces with her friend Shimrit Lev, a Chinese medicine practitioner. They discovered an Indian plant that when swallowed has an effect on glucose metabolism: Gymnema Sylvestre stabilizes blood-sugar levels. They tried chewing the leaves. According to Lahav: “It was crazy how much we did not wants sweet after that.”

 

Given that people want immediate results, they spent three years in development of a chewing gum until they found the right formula. The Israeli ambassador to India aided the women in finding an organic source for the plant. Further help was given by the Strauss food conglomerate which produces its own brand of chewing gum. And that is how Sweet Victory was born. Unfortunately, because the gum is deemed to be a food supplement and Israel lacks a gum factory authorized to produce such supplements the product is manufactured in Italy.

 

Two minutes of chewing the gum produces astonishing effects: at best people find sweets, including chocolate, to be tasteless, and at worst totally revolting and they have to spit it out. (One is reminded of the earwax jellybeans of Harry Potter infamy.) The effect lasts for a couple of hours. A case study in Sheba Medical Center revealed that chewing a piece of Sweet Victory three times a day was sufficient to make a difference. As Lahav noted: “The gum does not change the taste buds permanently; it just occupies the sweet receptors for a specific time.” Further research on diabetics is to be undertaken at Tel Aviv Medical Center.

 

So far Sweet Victory is available in the Philippines and New Zealand, with distribution in the works for Panama and France. The target is to have it on sale in 12 countries by the end of 2021. As for U.S. sales, the plan is to have an American distributor place it in a few pharmacies in New York for a soft launch.

 

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Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion

 

The portion of Yitro (Exodus 19:1-20:23) is read this Saturday, February 6th.

 

19:3 And Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel. (4) You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. (5) Now then, if you obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, (6) but you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (7) These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel” …. (14) Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes. (15) And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day, do not go near a woman.”

 

Through the use of plural nouns we can assert that women and men were both physically present at revelation. Several times in Exodus, chapter 19, God calls to the entire Israelite people, without distinction between men and women. God said, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel” (*Exod. 19:3). Rashi taught that “the house of Jacob refers to the women and the children of Israel refers to the men.” God then continues with this charge” “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exod. 19:6). In both verses, God includes not only men, but also women in the revelatory experience. Torah also relates, “Adonai said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after’” (Exod.19:9). God includes all the people, both men and women, in hearing God’s revelation….

 

These proof texts show that when God revealed Torah and commanded Moses, both men and women were equally included. Yet, Moses distinguished between men’s and women’s involvement in leadership and revelation. He first summoned only the elders, who were all men, and told them what God had commanded him. Later, after Moses came down from the mountain, he added the words that set men apart from women, “do not go near a woman” (Exod. 19:15). Rashi gives an explanation for Moses’ addition: “This was in order that the women might bathe on the third day and be in a state of purity to receive the Torah.” Rashi noticed that Moses added these words to god’s original command and justified their inclusion. These words were not part of God’s original commands to the entire people of Israel. When Moses served as God’s spokesman, he limited women’s involvement both as participants in revelation and as elders. What a great loss for that generation. (Rabbi Julie K. Gordon, “Yitro: We All Stood at Sinai,” in Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed., The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, pp.145-6. Rabbi Gordon grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, a Jewish community of only 10 families. Unable to apply to the Jewish Theological Seminary to become a rabbi, she pursued her rabbinic studies at New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was ordained in 1984. [JTS ordained its first woman rabbi in 1985.] Her first pulpits were at the Park Slope Jewish Center, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Knesset Israel, Green Bay, Wisconsin. From 1987 to 2002, along with her then husband, Rabbi Jonathan H. Ginsburg, she served as co-senior rabbi at the Temple of Aaron in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While there she served as the Jewish chaplain to the VA Medical Center in the Twin Cities. For two years, Rabbi Gordon administered the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Avodah B’Yachad – Service Together program (now known as Justice Squared). From 2004 to 2007 she was the spiritual life director of the Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. She lived in Jerusalem from 2010-2013 and earned a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Hebrew College in Boston and the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. She also completed the two-year Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI) professional development program. Currently, she serves as Rabbi Educator at the Hill Havurah in Washington, D.C.)

 

 

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Questions for Yitro 5781 (Exodus 19:1- 20:23)

 

  1. Why does the giving of the Torah take place outside of the Land of Israel?
  2. How long did it take the Israelites to get from the Reed Sea to Sinai?
  3. What does it mean to be God’s “treasured possession?”
  4. Do verses 19:8 and 9 represent one trip up the mountain or two?
  5. What did God demand of the people in terms of preparation for Revelation?
  6. How did the Israelites manage to wash their clothing at Sinai?
  7. Could a case be made that Mount Sinai was actually a volcano?
  8. Who was blowing shofar at Mount Sinai?
  9. Where was Moses when the Revelation began?
  10. Who are the priests mentioned in verse 19:22?
  11. Is 20:2 an identifying prologue or the first commandment?
  12. What is prohibited in 20:4-5? Is it only sculptured images and/or images that are worshipped? Or is it in fact all images of anything in nature?
  13. What is the rationale for observing the Sabbath?
  14. What is distinctive about the commandment to honor one’s parents? Why the difference with this commandment?
  15. May one covet a neighbor’s snow-blower or his new car?
  16. How much of the Ten Commandments did the people actually hear?
  17. Did Moses fail to convey to the Israelites what God said in 20:20?
  18. Why should a stone altar not have hewn stones?
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Fri, February 26 2021 14 Adar 5781